Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

The Finishing School (Joanna Goodman)

I’ve never done this before, but I feel compelled to include a TRIGGER WARNING for readers due to the presence of childhood sexual abuse and teen suicide found in The Finishing School. Both issues are prevalent themes of the novel.

Having said that, The Finishing School was an outstanding read! The novel’s setting is split between Lausanne and Toronto. Kersti is an Estonian-Canadian whose family owns a small travel agency in Toronto. Rather than educating her in Toronto, her family sends her to the same all-girls boarding school in Lausanne that her mother attended. It is at the Lycee that Kersti becomes friends with her roommate, Cressida.

Cressida is a wild-child, experimenting with drug use and exploring her sexuality. Cressida soon confides in her roommate that she is having an affair with an older man; Kersti later discovers that the man is the girls’ married history teacher. After an upsetting night during the girls’ senior year including lots of tears and alcohol, Cressida falls from her third floor balcony, leaving her paralyzed and spending the rest of her life in a vegetative state. The school determines the event was an unfortunate accident caused by Cressida’s alcoholism and the investigation is closed.

While working on her third novel, Kersti receives a disturbing letter written by one of her Lycee friends just before her death that suggests that something sinister was actually occurring behind the secluded doors of the exclusive boarding school. Is it possible that Cressida was pushed from the balcony because she knew too much? Were other girls suffering in silence? This letter begins Kersti’s search for the truth in order to gain justice for her friend and to bring closure to her own experiences at The Finishing School.

Goodman’s novel certainly qualifies as a page-turner and quickly engages the reader. The writing style is fluid and allows the audience to seamlessly move between the recounting of events at the school in the 1990s and the present day search for truth. The inclusion of Kersti’s personal struggles with fertility and the impact it has on her marriage can sometimes become distracting from the overall storyline, but I still find The Finishing School to be a worthy read for any book club or a reader needing a fun thriller to add to their shelf.

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Ballplayer (Chipper Jones)

I’m not an athlete by any stretch of the imagination. I was never on a team during school. Hell, I would only go to sporting events once I got to college because of the social aspect of the games. But there was one game that I always enjoyed watching — baseball.

My love for the American pastime probably has its roots in early childhood evenings watching my brother play for the local community team. My interest waned as my brother served the military and my personal focus turned to music. When the Pepperdine Waves won the college World Series in the early 1990s, my interest was piqued again and I began to enjoy professional ball.  Of course, I had a lot of fun watching the Dodgers since I was in town, but most of my loyalty was rooted in my southern heritage. I fell in love with the Atlanta Braves and Chipper Jones became one of my heroes. I always wanted a crisp white #10 jersey and never got one.

During the 1990s, I spent many weekends in front of the television with my eyes glued to TBS to cheer on my Braves. When I saw Ballplayer in the digital library, I knew I wanted to read the memoir of my favorite player. I enjoyed reading about Chipper’s accomplishments from his perspective and seeing that even the best players struggle with relationships, criticism, and self doubt. It was a refreshing read and one that I’m very glad I took the time to explore.

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Insurgent (Veronica Roth)

This post has been challenging to write. Why? I finished reading Insurgent while on vacation with my parents last week. When I closed the novel, I found myself asking “What am I going to say about THAT?” I don’t know. Even as I am beginning to write this post, I don’t really know what I’m going to say. This may be an interesting review for all of us….

Insurgent continues the story of Tris and Tobias’ love affair in their dystopian world. As war looms, our young heros face the issue of figuring out who they can trust and who is telling them the truth. Themes of loyalty, forgiveness, freedom, and independence course throughout the work. As a work of fiction, however, I found myself unimpressed repeatedly. The plot simply seemed to circle on itself and never move forward. I was no longer drawn into the story as I was in Divergent and discovered that I kept reading because of my commitment to the previous novel. As I neared the end, I began to question if I really wanted to read the final novel in the trilogy. I don’t have the confidence that the story and writing will grab my attention again. Part of me wants to read it just to complete the cycle; the other part of me hears my former literature teacher telling me to walk away from a bad read without guilt because there are so many good books awaiting my attention. We will just have to see what the future holds.

I’m rather shocked that this has been my response to Insurgent. The reviews for the book were tremendous. The book appears at first glance to be the kind that I will thoroughly enjoy. I can’t really put my finger on what it was about the second installment of the trilogy that turned me off so badly, but I can’t really come up with anything good to say about the reading experience.

So I’m taking a departure from young adult fiction for a while and returning to more familiar territory. I wanted to immerse myself in several different books in hopes that SOMETHING would re-ignite a passion for reading at the moment. So what am I reading right now? I’m working my way through 3 books — which is rather unusual for me!  I am reading The First American (H.W. Brands), The Finishing School (Joanna Goodman) and Ballplayer (Chipper Jones). Hopefully I’ll have a new reading review on one of these books by the end of the week. Now I’m going back to my reading chair and diving into a book.

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Educated (Tara Westover)

It should come as no surprise to those that know me personally that this memoir immediately caught my attention when I saw it on the bookstore shelf. I have always been passionate about the individual pursuit of personal education in the face of challenging situations. While Westover’s memoir does grapple with this important issue, Educated is a book about much more than this.

Tara Westover was a young woman raised in an ultra-religious Mormon home in Idaho. Because of her father’s belief that government institutions were not to be trusted, the family’s five children were “home-schooled” (if her limited education can truly be called that) and medical attention was limited to what could be provided through Mother’s homeopathic remedies. Tara, however, wanted more for her life and sought to experience higher education despite her limited education. To further compound Westover’s challenges, she experienced incredibly violent abuse at the hands of an older brother while her parents watched. Through tremendous perseverance and personal growth, Tara successfully attends BYU in Utah before culminating her studies at Harvard and Cambridge.

Tara’s story as recounted in Educated was profoundly moving to me and has caused me to think about my own struggles in life. Like Tara, I was also raised in a fundamentalist Christian movement that seemed to fear conventional education. Also like Tara, I experienced abuse — although my abuse was primarily verbal and mental — in my childhood home while my parents were seemingly unaware of what was truly going on. I identified with Tara’s feelings of inadequacy as she struggled through the first years of collegiate study. I vividly remember the first time that I recognized that the home life I had experienced as a child was not the norm — and, in fact, not emotionally or mentally healthy. I am currently in the process of coming to the realization that the place where I was raised is no longer “home” because I am no longer the child that silently suffered there for so many years.

Tara Westover’s book has certainly been a life-changing read for me. I took comfort in identifying with the emotions of another person who had escaped. Like Tara, I don’t know that I consider my departure from my abuser’s influence an escape or a harrowing experience. I think I finally came to the point that I was able to realize that they no longer had any influence over me and that I would no longer allow their voice to pierce the quietness of my mind. Like Westover, I too have been Educated and I am forever thankful for it.

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